Examining the Effects of Telehealth in Rural Networks

How Telehealth is Making a Difference in Rural Areas

Examining the Effects of Telehealth in Rural Networks, Particularly on Pregnant Women and New Mothers

Telehealth is changing the way patients in rural communities think about receiving healthcare. These underserved areas often lack access to healthcare centers, including hospitals and primary care facilities. Additionally, patients may not have the means to travel long distances to get the care they need.

This is particularly challenging for pregnant women and new mothers. Fortunately, telehealth can diminish some of these barriers by giving patients the means to correspond with healthcare professionals in real-time, including live audio/video and remote patient monitoring (RPM).

Why Accessing Healthcare Services Can Be Difficult in Rural Areas

Around 20% of the United States lives in rural areas, which makes it difficult to administer healthcare to these patients on a timely basis. It may take patients several hours to reach the closest hospital or specialist. For these patients, accessing care usually means calling out of work and securing reliable transportation to the healthcare facility, which isn’t always easy or possible.

This lack of access to healthcare often has the biggest effect on children and pregnant women. If a woman experiences a complication with her pregnancy, she may not have the time or resources to get to the nearest hospital. This contributes to a rise in infant mortality rates in rural areas. Missouri has long had one of the highest infant mortality rates in the country, with rates as high as 7.5 babies per 1,000 births in 2007.

How Missouri Is Expanding Access to Healthcare with Telehealth

Missouri recently passed a new piece of legislation that eliminates many of barriers to telehealth services, including real-time communication with healthcare professionals and RPM. Pregnant women can use these services to keep in touch with their doctors, so if any complications occur, they can chat with their doctors in real-time and get the medical advice they need without having to travel long distances.

The bill requires private insurance companies to reimburse telehealth services just like an in-person visit. The bill makes it clear that insurers “shall not deny coverage for a health care service on the basis that the health care service is provided through telehealth if the same service would be covered if provided through face-to-face diagnosis, consultation, or treatment.”

It also expands post-partum drug treatment for new mothers from two months to twelve months after the delivery. Additionally, government assistance programs have increased the state’s access to smartphones, giving patients the telemedicine equipment they need to remotely consult with doctors.

These changes have enabled mothers across the state to receive the care they need on a timely basis. With the increased access to smartphones and telehealth reimbursement, women can consult with doctors in real-time and get the care they need on a timely basis. Since the bill was passed, the state has lowered its mortality rates to the national average.

Missouri is a shining example of how telehealth can make a difference in rural areas where access to healthcare tends to be limited. If more states  introduce similar legislation, reducing obstacles to telehealth services, we could see reduced mortality rates across the country.

Requiring insurance companies to reimburse telehealth visits and other telemedicine services makes these options more affordable and accessible to patients. This is a step in the right direction, but there is still more work to be done in the upcoming months and years.